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Personal Sharing With My Church Family 
(Perkasie Mennonite, Perkasie, PA)
email Roberta
Personal Sharing With My Church Family
by Roberta Showalter Kreider

author Fifteen Reasons Why I Have Changed My Mind

Harold and I have been a part of this church family for over thirteen years now. We have shared many of your joys and sorrows and you have loved us through ours. So today it seems right to be able to share with you some of the dynamics that have helped to shape my experience with homosexuality. My purpose in telling my story is not to force my beliefs on you. I hope that sharing what has happened in my journey will help to clear up misunderstandings that may have come between us because I have lived so close to this issue that it is impossible not to let some of my passion shine through.

The journey to where I am today has not been an easy one. In my growing- up-years, I don't remember that much was said about homosexuality, but somehow I knew it was that terrible, awful sin that made me shudder to think about it.

As I read my Bible I knew that what Paul was talking about in chapter one of Romans was exceedingly sinful and obnoxious to God. I had never known anyone like that and didn't really want to.

I had three older brothers and I very much wanted a sister. When I was three years old, my parents told me that we were going to have a baby in our home. I very emphatically exclaimed, "Well, if it's a boy, I'm going to take him out and bury him!"

My favorite story at that time was about Baby Ray to whom the tree gave an apple, the cow gave milk, etc. I think my father had a good reason for reading that story to me a lot as we waited for the birth of the new baby.

I remember sitting on the side of my mother's hospital bed, holding my brand new baby brother and my parents told me I could name him. Of course, the name I chose was "Baby Ray," which I'm sure was the name my parents had in mind all along because it followed their naming pattern. So we became the "Five R's." And what about my threat to bury the baby if I didn't get a sister? Why, I forgot all about it in the joy of naming and claiming my baby brother. He was so special to me and I felt very responsible for him.

We grew up as siblings, playmates, and friends. Soon after Harold and I moved to Kansas City, MO, to help my uncle and aunt at the Mennonite Gospel Center, Ray was one of the first volunteers for the VS (Volunteeer Service) unit that was just beginning to be. He came to live with us until the unit house was ready and worked as a hospital orderly. I remember wondering how he came to choose that job since the sight of blood was nauseous to him. When I welcomed him home each night, he didn't want to talk until he could shower and change into other clothing "to get the hospital smell off of him."

After Ray completed VS he followed us to Northeastern MO, where we had moved to be partners with Harold's parents on their farm near Palmyra. Ray worked as a hospital orderly in Hannibal. When he decided that his calling was to be a nurse, he went back to Kansas City and took his training at General Hospital, where he had worked in VS.

On his wedding day several years later, we were alone with Ray in his apartment awhile before the ceremony. He said to me, "Oh, Roberta, I am so scared, so scared!" I had no idea WHY he was so scared and of course, he didn't dare tell ME.

Ray excelled in his profession. He and his wife were missionaries in Puerto Rico for one term. Later he had a large part in setting up the nursing program at Hesston College. After employment by the State of Kansas as Executive Administrator of the State Board of Nursing, he accepted a position as Associate Executive Director of the National Council of State Boards of Nursing and they moved to Oak Park, a suburb of Chicago.

In the spring of 1984 Ray entered the hospital for tests. He was hospitalized for several months and though, I talked to him almost every Saturday, I never could find out the diagnosis or prognosis of his disease. But one Saturday when I called I knew that he wanted us to come. So the following weekend Harold and I met my brother Russell and his wife at Ray and Ann's apartment and Ann drove the four of us to the hospital.

As we entered the hospital room, it was a shock to see the emaciated physique of my brother. After we all hugged him and sat down, there was an uncomfortable silence. Then a childhood memory, that had surfaced as we drove through the mountains of PA, came to my mind again. So I said, "Ray, as we drove through the mountains of PA yesterday, the clouds were so beautiful and fluffy and reminded me of how you and I used to climb up on the chicken house roof and watch the clouds. Do you remember the time we saw a cloud that we thought looked like Jesus and His disciples in a little boat and we talked about that maybe they were coming to take us to Heaven?"

He answered, "Oh, Roberta, I've been thinking about that a lot," and then he was ready to tell us his story. It was one of the most traumatic experiences of my life to hear the words, "I have a sad story to tell you. I have AIDS and I have nobody to blame but myself." He also added very wistfully, as if he really wished we would understand, but doubted that we could, "Since childhood, my sexual fantasies have all been with men."

Our greatest concerns for him at that time were that he would know that we still loved him and that he was ready to meet God. He assured Harold and I, when we were alone with him the next day, that he had made his peace with God. We needed to start home that day. That was the last time I was with my brother. Two weeks later he died.

I've searched my own heart much through the years trying to figure out what happened to influence my brother to have such a strong homosexual desire that he risked his family, his career, and his life to fulfill it! I have cried out many times since his death, "Oh, Ray, Ray, how could you do it?"

I don't ask that question anymore and I'd like to tell you why. I began to search, to read, to question people, and to try to determine what "changed" my brother so drastically from the sibling I thought I grew up with. Everything I read enforced the judgment that homosexuality is a learned experience -- a chosen one. So even though it was my brother, whom I loved, I came out stronger and stronger against all homosexuality. I remember being quite disturbed at one of the men from our church when he taught the class on human sexuality a few years ago. He seemed to come out strongly on the side of making room for homosexuality in the church. After that class session, I asked myself and others, "Does the teacher really believe that we should allow non-celibate homosexuals to be members of our church, or was he just trying to get us to argue against it?" Well, he got the argument from me!

As the years went on and more and more rumblings were heard, I began to be terribly fearful of the time when this issue would come before the church. I was afraid that my church (Perkasie Mennonite) would decide to accept practicing homosexuals as members and then what would *I* do? I even worried that Harold would go with the majority and I would have to make a different decision. Then what would *we* do? To be true to God, would I have to go to another church? Would Harold and I grow apart?

We had some uncomfortable times discussing theology together those days. But we kept searching and asking God to lead us and finally, I became more willing to look at other views than my own.

Then the time I feared arrived! Harold came home from conference with the news that, in the next session, the issue of Germantown would be coming before the conference body, because they have members who are living in same-sex relationships. Suddenly, we knew that we could no longer avoid the issue! Because he is a minister, Harold was one of the delegates who needed to vote. The destiny of a whole congregation was hanging in the balance! We both agreed *instantly* that we did not feel it fair to vote about other people's lives when we had never listened to them and heard their stories.

So we began to diligently seek out resources that presented the other side. It's too long a story to tell of all the ways we felt God's Spirit pushing us on. There were times I became very fearful and started to draw back, but each time, as I cried out to God for affirmation, for guidance, and the assurance that I was not going astray or leading others astray, I received the assurance I needed, sometimes in some very unexpected ways.

One evening, in our home, one of the men from our congregation said to me, "Roberta, I would like to know why you have changed your mind." I tried, as best I could, to tell him my reasons, but I felt I did a very inadequate job. Sometime later after the Germantown congregation was demoted to "associate member" status, I was awakened at 3 a.m. with the words, "Fourteen reasons, fourteen reasons," running through my mind. I became wide awake and asked, "Lord, do I really have fourteen reasons?" The reasons began to come fast and I knew there would be no more sleep for me that night until I got up and wrote them down.

The next morning I looked at the reasons, but didn't feel like putting flesh on them. However, a few days later it became like "fire in my bones." I'm not much of a writer, but when I worked on that paper, the words flowed out quite easily. The fourteen reasons became fifteen and I titled my article, "Fifteen Reasons Why I have Changed My Mind."

Some questions I have needed to ask myself are: "What if it were my daughter, my son, my grandson, my granddaughter, or someone else dear to me? And if it were me who was born with this sexual orientation, how differently would I view this issue?" At this point, it surely does not seem as if any of my children or their spouses are gay, but even if it is not someone related to me now, it could be my grand- children's spouses someday.

My brother was in our family for 55 years and we never knew he was a gay man until he was on his deathbed. We have met a Mennonite missionary couple who have four children. Three of them are homosexual. On my mother's side I have two cousins who are gay; on my father's side a first cousin's son is gay and another's daughter is lesbian. One of the young men at Germantown is the son of my second cousin. So you see this issue very deeply affects my life.

I feel caught in the middle! I very deeply love and care for each of you and don't want to hurt you in any way. It has been very comfortable to walk along together, affirming and encouraging one another without many major conflicts. Truly it is good when God's people dwell together in peace! But when I am about ready to say, "Let's just keep it that way," then immediately I see the faces of our many gay and lesbian friends and their parents. I remember their heart-breaking stories and their long wait to be invited to God's table and I cannot turn them away.

I've made myself very vulnerable with this personal story. I hope that you can still love me and know that I truly am seeking to follow God in the way Jesus modeled for me. I want those who differ with me, because of their own religious convictions, to know that I feel that they also are sincerely seeking to follow God. I hope we can keep seeking together and trusting that God will guide us.

Thank you for listening to my story. I hope you will read Fifteen Reasons Why I Have Changed My Mind, so that you will understand better where I am on my journey. I would very much like to hear your stories also. I would like to know how God is leading in your lives.

I've made myself very vulnerable with this personal story. I hope that you can still love me and know that I truly am seeking to follow God in the way Jesus modeled for me. I want those who differ with me, because of their own religious convictions, to know that I feel that they also are sincerely seeking to follow God. I hope we can keep seeking together and trusting that God will guide us.

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text © Oct 1996 Roberta Showalter Kreider